Klassen ready to take next step

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Prince Albert Mintos forward Gabe Klassen controls the puck while Chase Vancoughnett-Lafleur of the Beardy’s Blackhawks chases after him Tuesday night at the Art Hauser Centre.

If you were trying to get in contact with Prince Albert’s Gabe Klassen this summer, the easiest place to find him was at the gym.

After being selected with the 19th overall pick in the 2018 Western Hockey League Bantam Draft by the Portland Winterhawks, the 15-year-old forward was hard at work as he prepared for his debut season in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League with the Prince Albert Mintos.

“Working out during the off-season has always been a big thing for me, but I’ve really focused a lot on improving my speed and my strength lately as I get ready to move up to the next level,” Klassen said.

“I feel like I’m ready skill wise, but the other parts of my game need to be a lot better, so I’ve been spending a lot of time on my leg strength this summer to make sure I have the explosiveness to beat guys one-on-one.”

Coming off of an 89-point campaign with the Prince Albert Bantam AA Raiders this past season, Klassen signed a standard player agreement with the Winterhawks in June and made his way down to the Rose City last month for training camp.

“Portland’s a great place,” Klassen said. “I knew it would be a lot different than Prince Albert but you really don’t know how big it is until you get there.

“The facilities are fantastic as well. When you step into the Moda Center for the first time, it really feels like a National Hockey League facility.”

After teaming up with Moose Jaw product and second year Winterhawks forward Reece Newkirk for the Neely Cup pre-season tournament, Klassen had the chance to suit up in two exhibition games with the team before returning to Prince Albert in time for the start of the school year.

“The whole experience was awesome,” Klassen said. “The competition was great and I felt like I played better as the two weeks in Portland went along.

“I found myself getting more comfortable when I was out there as I was able to learn a lot from the players that have been in Portland for awhile and know what the WHL is all about. I’m excited to see what the future holds with the Winterhawks.”

Since returning home, Klassen has been getting up to speed with the Mintos as he played in a pair of exhibition games with the team this past week.

“We have a young group of guys and it should be an exciting team to be a part of,” Klassen said. “We’re hoping to get off to a good start here and be one of the top teams in the league once we reach the end of the regular season.”

While Klassen is in the mix to represent Saskatchewan at the Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Alta. in February, his main goal for this season is to help the Mintos in any way he can.

“I want to play a decent role for the team and help us reach our goals, which includes going to the Mac’s Tournament (in Calgary) at Christmas and being in the hunt for the title when the playoffs start,” Klassen said.

“Anything else that goes along with that would be a bonus really.”

Following a 2-1 overtime loss to the Saskatoon Contacts at the Art Hauser Centre Thursday, the Mintos had a 2-2 record in exhibition play heading into a road game with the Tisdale Trojans Friday.

After starting off the pre-season with a 7-2 romp over the Trojans last Wednesday, the Mintos fell 2-1 on the road to the Saskatoon Contacts Sunday and topped the Beardy’s Blackhawks 4-1 at home Tuesday.

Forward Dawson Springer, who played with the Melville Midget AA Millionaires last year, leads all players in the league in scoring during exhibition action with seven points in four games.

The Mintos will wrap up the pre-season Tuesday on the road against the Blackhawks before starting their regular season slate next Saturday at 1:30 p.m. against the Moose Jaw Generals at the Art Hauser Centre.

Fans are asked to arrive early for the home opener as the team will pay tribute to former forward Jacob Leicht, who lost his life in the Humboldt Broncos bus accident in April.